pattern language

Obama Pattern Language Primer — 4

Welcome to this sequential introduction to Christopher Alexander’s Pattern Language. I am following the online pattern language summary which can be accessed by clicking the link immediately below.


Each of these posts takes a cluster of patterns and seeks briefly to offer a context for these in terms of a situation that has changed since the initial book was created in the 1970s. All of the posts in this series are reachable from the link below.


Connect communities to one another by encouraging the growth of networks.

  • Web of Public Transportation
  • Ring Roads
  • Network of Learning
  • Web of Shopping
  • Mini-Buses
  • Web of Public Transportation (May be part of City Country Fingers, Local Transport Areas)

    Alexander notes the melange of ill-connected public tranit, each run by different agencies. His sensible proposal is to treat interchanges as the first priority and transportation lines as secondary. This would end up linking all transport lines. He believes this can be achieved by a form of local control that would give contracts only to transporters who would serve their interchanges. I am tempted to say, dream on. There is no area of design more dependent on a hierarchy of power which has, for a century, been dominated by the private automobile and the need to build highways and interstates that have no interest whatsoever in any sort of human community,

    What I am seeking to propose, building on the salient work of Alexander, is a cell or node or town unit of human settlement, as yet not built, nonexistent. This unit of possible 5-10,000 persons would have no private cars within its center and its center would include its perimeter. It would be units in a circle or oval or rectangle or square or other pattern where any private vehicles would be accessible only on leaving the space. Over time the transit between such communities would be achieved by such means as the underground trains that we associate with the US senate. Or via pneumatic devices. Or by bike or light rail or mini-buses or vehicles as yet uninvented.

    In effect the transit issue would be removed from the immediate area where people live and work and have their being, because the explicit rule would be that this is a post-automobile culture.

    Ring Roads (May be part of Local Transport Areas, Interchange, Web of Public Transportation)

    Alexander says, “It is not possible to avoid the need for high speed roads in modern society; but it is essential to place them and build them in such a way that they do not destroy communities or countryside.”

    Yes and no. It is possible to limit the dominance of high speed roads by first accepting the basic idea that new human settlements should be largely pedestrian. And secondly that they should eventually be linked by means other than highways.

    In essence highways would become less and less the thorougfares needed to move people and goods about. Their rights of ways, however, belong to us. And this means that we could develop all manner of uses for this space, including transport uses based on advanced technology, new vehicles and so forth.

    Network of Learning

    Here you can see Alexander struggling with the issue of schooling or learning. He says: “Instead of the lock-step of compulsory schooling in a fixed place, work in piecemeal ways to decentralise the process of learning and enrich it through contact with many places and people…” In essence my proposed cell, town, human settlement plan would make this likely by establishing small areas where students could walk from home to the areas and have one to one contact both with a live adult and with a massive range of Web enabled educational resources. The entire settlement would contain the educational diversity Alexander calls for.

    (Note, always read the original at the links above to see exactly where I am departing from Alexander and the full text of what Alexander is suggesting.)

    Web of Shopping (May be part of Mosaic of Subcultures, Subculture Boundary , Scattered Work, Local Transport Areas)

    Says Alexander: “Shops rarely place themselves in those positions which best serve the people’s needs, and also guarantee their own stability.” The best way to accomplish viable commerce within communities is to have areas where clusters of shops and services meet people’s needs without competing directly. Since there would be several such clusters in a community of 5-10,000 to ensure choices among estatlishments in the same category. There would also be a radical increase in Web access to products and services that could be delivered. Many shops could be essentially ordering spots where one would be assisted in finding and securing the best products. As settlements multiplied there would be a plethora of shopping options integrated into the fabric of residence, culture, sports, cafes and so forth.

    Mini-Buses (May be part of Web of Public Transportation, Local Transport Areas)

    Alexander: “Public transportation must be able to take people from any point to any other point with the metropolitan area.

    “Establish a system of small taxi-like buses, carrying up to six people each, radio-controlled, on call by telephone, able to provide point-to-point service according to the passengers’ needs, and supplemented by a computer system which guarantees minimum detours and minimum wait times. Make bus stops for the mini-buses every 600 feet in each direction and equip these bus stops with a phone for dialling a bus.”

    In my plan these would be located outside the perimeter of the settlement. It is also possible that people-movers would function between adjacent settlements and essentially link all such settlements. We are talking about eliminating much of the time presently taken up with commuting and diminishing the present clogging of arteries aka roads.

    More on Pattern Language:

    See the brief at and then read in sequence:

    Part OnePart TwoPart ThreePart Four,, Part FivePart SixPart SevenPart EightPart NinePart TenPart ElevenPart TwelvePart ThirteenPart Fourteen


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